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SUIT SEEKS TO HAVE BOARD CANDIDATE TAKEN OFF BALLOT

In the race for the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School Board, retired teacher Louis M. Reuter has become the focus of numerous complaints from one of his opponents, and the object of a lawsuit filed by another.

Donette C. Darrow, the current School Board president, accuses Reuter of campaigning in schools and elsewhere on district property, in violation of state law.

And, she says, he has filed financial statements that fail to account for the cost of campaign mailings and hundreds of lawn signs.

Gary Annis, who is backed by the local taxpayer group, filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court that seeks to have Reuter removed from Tuesday's ballot. The suit claims Reuter was still technically an employee of the school district -- as a substitute teacher -- at the time he filed petitions declaring his candidacy, making him ineligible.

"The citizens' rights should be protected in this case for a fair election," said Annis. "That's all I want."

Reuter says it's his opponents who are interfering with a fair election.

"There is an effort here to thwart the democratic process," he said. "There's a fear factor here. They fear I'm going to collect more votes than they will."

Annis filed a proceeding Thursday in State Supreme Court, asking the judge to remove Reuter from the ballot. Judge Joseph Glownia is scheduled to hear the case late today.

The court papers filed by Charles Gallagher, the attorney representing Annis, state that Reuter submitted his resignation to Ken-Ton in early April. The School Board, though, did not vote to accept his resignation until May 12.

So, when Reuter submitted his nominating petitions April 21, he was still technically a district employee and therefore not eligible to run for the School Board, the papers state.

"State law says it's a conflict of interest," Annis said. "There's obvious reasons for the conflict. You can politic. You have have access to school buildings and things other candidates do not have access to, which is an unfair advantage."

Last week, Reuter rebuffed claims that he wasn't eligible to run for the board.

"I still think it's nonsense," he said Thursday.

Darrow has filed complaints with district Clerk Alan Getter, alleging Reuter campaigned at the district's buildings and grounds office and at Kenmore East High School. Rulings by the commissioner of education prohibit candidates from campaigning on school property.

"In fact, that was called to my attention, and I immediately ceased that. I stopped in at lunchtime and chatted with a couple fellas," said Reuter, who declined to elaborate. "I didn't realize that was a major concern."

Darrow also alleges that a district employee saw lawn signs supporting Reuter distributed on the grounds of Kenmore Middle School, and that the teachers union distributed campaign literature to teachers in their school mailboxes -- which is prohibited. Reuter said he has no knowledge of either alleged incident. Union President Donald Benker could not be reached to comment.

All the candidates were required by law to file papers with the district Friday, documenting how much they've spent on their campaigns.

Reuter signed a statement indicating he has spent less than $500. In a letter to Getter requesting an investigation, Darrow questioned where the money for Reuter's lawn signs and campaign literature came from.

Reuter said he has not yet received a bill for the signs. He plans to account for them on the second required filing, which is after Tuesday's election.

He said he wasn't sure how much the signs cost -- "I would suppose a couple thousand dollars." Reuter said some of the money would come out of his pocket, "and there will be support from other people as well," he said, but would not identify who the other people might be. The teachers union would also contribute, he said.

Benker has declined to tell The Buffalo News how much the group has given or will give to Reuter's campaign, and said he was not obligated to report the amount.

"It's an internal union consideration," he said.

State law requires all money spent in excess of $500 on behalf of a candidate be reported to the district clerk and the education commissioner, according to Barbara Bradley, a spokeswoman for the New York State School Boards Association.

Last year, the teachers union spent $4,500 on each of the two candidates it supported, according to documents those candidates filed with the district clerk after the election.

e-mail: mpasciak@buffnews.com

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